How to say "ability" or "skill" in German

First, what’s the difference in English? Although definitions diverge, most agree that having an “ability” (a capacity or capability to do something) is a prerequisite for developing a “skill” (an expertise at accomplishing a task) that can be refined through routine or training. Skills are also generally more goal-directed. In reality, the terms overlap heavily in common usage.

In German, the word for “ability” is “Fähigkeit” (f.) and “to be able (to do something)” is “fähig sein (etwas zu tun)”:

– “Er ist zu allem fähig.” – “He’s capable of anything.”
– “Ich zweifle an seinen Fähigkeiten.” – “I’m questioning his abilities.”

The German word for “skill” is “Fertigkeit” (f.), and is usually used to describe a degree of dexterity or proficiency developed through the frequent performance of specific tasks (such as playing the guitar or using a foreign language):

– “Der Kurs fördert die Sprechfertigkeit der Schüler.” – “The course develops the speaking skills of the students.”
– “Ihm fehlen die benötigten beruflichen Fertigkeiten.” – “He’s lacking the necessary professional/vocational skills.”

The word “Können” (n.) encompasses both “Fähigkeit” and “Fertigkeit”, and, relatedly, the words for “talent” are “Begabung” (f.) or “Talent” (n.).

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